When it comes to feet, Americans seem to think pain is normal.
Eight of 10 people responding to a 2009 survey from the American Podiatric
Medical Association reported having at least one foot ailment in the past year.
More than half complained of heel pain. Others were crying "Ouch!" because of
blisters, corns, pinched nerves, and ingrown toenails.
Why is back pain or a knee injury annoying to one person and sheer agony to another? Turns out, an individual's tolerance to pain is as unique as the person, and is shaped by some surprising biological factors, as well as some psychological factors that we can actually try to control.
"Foot pain isn't normal, and yet people put up with it," says Dennis Frisch,
DPM, a podiatrist in Boca Raton, Fla., and an APMA spokesman.
About 35% of those who reported heel pain in the survey, for instance, said
they had it for two years or longer.
There are some age-related changes in our feet that can make pain more
likely. But painful feet aren't inevitable with age, Frisch says.
If you follow six simple steps -- some obvious, others often overlooked --
chances are good you'll sail through life with comfortable, pain-free feet.
Here, Frisch and a fellow podiatrist, Jeffrey A. Ross, DPM, MD, a spokesman
for the American College of Sports Medicine, associate clinical professor of
medicine and chief of the diabetic foot clinic at Ben Taub Hospital, Houston,
share their tips.
1. Pay Attention to Hygiene and Pedicures
Feet are easy to ignore, especially in cooler months when they're often in
closed-toe shoes or boots. But a little attention can go a long way toward
comfort, Frisch says.
''Make sure you cut toenails straight across" to avoid ingrown nails, Frisch
Moisturize dry skin on the foot when it's cracked to keep feet comfortable,
Frisch says, and to help ward off infections when bacteria enter through
"If you go to a pedicurist, be sure the shop is clean and take your own
tools," Frisch says. Pedicure tools are widely sold at beauty supply stores and
at some nail salons.
If a shop recommends you bring your own tools, that's a good sign, he says,
indicating they are aware of the importance of good hygiene standards.
2. Be Alert to Age-Related Changes
Expect your foot to change as the years go by, Frisch says. Although the
timing varies from person to person, changes in the 40s and 50s are typical, he
"With age, we lose some of our fat pads [on the bottom of the foot] and
cushioning," Frisch says. That might mean wearing sturdier shoes, he says.
Arthritic changes can set in, Frisch says. The toes may bend or contract
more, and the nails may be thicker, making you more prone to ingrown
Be alert for problems such as hammertoes, in which the middle joint bends
down and the toes begin to look deformed; or for bunions, bony bumps at the
base of the big toe that can be painful. These conditions may appear or worsen
"Foot size can change as you get older," Frisch says. Generally feet get
longer and wider as the tendons loosen, he says. Don't be surprised if your
shoe size changes, and be sure to get feet measured when you buy shoes.